By T J S George
29th November 2015
Western powers have pooled their formidable military resources to punish ISIS for its terrorism. But they may not succeed because they are themselves the Frankensteins who produced the monster through the agency of Saudi Arabia. The founders of the Saudi dynasty began it all with policies of unspeakable cruelty justified in the name of religion. In the imperial games and oil politics that developed subsequently, Saudi Arabia became—and continues to be—an ally of the West and of countries that follow the Western model, such as India. Thus, the “civilised” world is trying to destroy ISIS while still remaining tied to the single biggest propagator of the basic ISIS premises.
In a moment of history in the 18th century, Mohammed Ibn Saud, the emir (chief) of an agricultural settlement, met Mohammed Abd al-Wahab, an Islamic reformer, in Central Arabia. Wahab, whose puritanical ideas had invited antagonism from other leaders of Islam, wanted protection. Ibn Saud, an ambitious desert warrior, found in Wahabism a way to legitimise his plans to conquer and expand. Wahab was intolerant enough to condemn as heretics all Muslims who did not follow him. But even he found Ibn Saud’s ideas extremist, for the warrior chief believed in military conquests of the merciless kind, killing prisoners of war and slaughtering all civilians, including women and children.
This legacy was the guiding influence behind Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the king who established Saudi Arabia formally in 1932 and was bewildered when unimaginable wealth started pouring into his pockets following the discovery of oil. He followed Wahabism with conviction and used as his chief instrument of domination the dreaded bedouin army called Ikhwan (Brotherhood). Thoroughly brainwashed before they were enrolled in the National Guard, Ikhwan fighters were known for the masks they wore and for their special techniques of ruthlessness such as slitting the throats of male captives. Now we know the historical background to those savage scenes of hooded IS men beheading kneeling victims.
Why did its Western allies not stop Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi evangelism in its early days? Lavishly funded programmes turned tolerant and easy-going Muslim societies such as Malaysia and Indonesia into assertively religious entities. Even in India, funds flowed in freely and burqa-wearing became an identity-flaunting practice that proclaimed a new attitude of defiance. Everyone knows that it was Saudi money and Wahabi radicalism that caused this ominous transformation, but the mighty West and liberal leaders of Asia’s liberal countries adopted an attitude of denial vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia.
And then came George Bush and his evil genius Dick Cheney. The way they destroyed Iraq violated all norms of civilisation. They didn’t slit throats. They did worse. Remember the gut-wrenching prisoner abuse pictures from Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib jail—US-UK soldiers standing on the naked bodies of Arab prisoners, urinating on them, dragging them with chains round their necks and taunting them with dogs? This didn’t subjugate Iraqis. It infuriated them. It infuriated Muslims en masse. ISIS was the direct consequence of the Bush-Cheney war crimes in Iraq. That’s why it has grown beyond a political or military phenomenon. It is now a philosophy, a culture.
It cannot be suppressed by French and Russian air forces or by American drones, which can at best deal with the symptoms, not the causes. Failure to address the root problems will only provide another reminder of how civilisations fall. Referring to the Goths’ sack of Rome in 410, Edward Gibbon wrote in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “In the hour of savage licence, when every passion was inflamed and every restraint was removed, a cruel slaughter was made of the Romans... Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by the opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent and the helpless.”
A more scary warning has been sounded by a member of the Dutch Parliament. Speaking in New York recently, he cited facts and figures to argue that Muslim ghettos controlled by religious fanatics have multiplied in European cities and that “we might be in the final stages of the Islamisation of Europe”.
Like America’s Iraq war, the present Western offensive against ISIS in Syria may well be creating a religious divide, driving more Muslim youths into jihadi terrorism. Religious television in Arab countries influence minds more powerfully than Russian missiles can influence events. The question arises whether ISIS is in a win-win situation. But the more important question is whether those opposing it are in a lose-lose situation and if so, why.